Bill, Bill, Bill… Bill Nye The Science Guy was a staple in every ’90s kid’s primary education. The exceptionally brainy kids even made it a part of their regular after-school television viewing schedule. Whenever there was a day with a substitute teacher in science class, it was guaranteed that there would be an episode of Bill Nye The Science Guy or The Magic School Bus… but, c’mon, Bill Nye was way cooler than Ms. Frizzle. And unlike Ms. Frizzle, Bill Nye remained in the media long after the beloved show came to an end.
Nye has made a name for himself since as an environmentalist, space enthusiast, and a master debater of creationism. But like any organism, The Science Guy has many layers and there is more than meets the eye. After placing Bill Nye under the proverbial microscope, here are the 15 Things You Never Knew About Bill Nye The Science Guy.
15. He Got His Nickname (“The Science Guy”) From The Television Show Almost Live!
Long before Bill Nye had his own show, he was an engineer and a writer/actor on the Seattle-based sketch comedy show Almost Live! in the ’80s and ’90s. Like MAD TV and Saturday Night Live, Almost Live! featured the same actors in various roles, performing improv scenes related to social issues of the time.
Knowing that Nye was a super science genius outside of his nightly thespian routine, Almost Live! creator Ross Shafer convinced Nye to take on a new role as “The Science Guy” in a recurring six-minute skit in which Nye would perform scientific experiments.
When Bill Nye wasn’t wearing a lab coat on the show, he was sporting hot pants and fighting crime as Speed Walker, a super hero who just walks really fast. Scientists are not exactly known for having a creative brain or a sense of humor but Bill Nye has dedicated his life to splitting atoms and bending the rules.
14. He Won A Steve Martin Lookalike Contest
As seen in his skits on Almost Live!, Bill Nye is a man of many talents in both science and entertainment. But before his acting career had completely taken off, he was a young engineer who happened to do accurate impressions of Steve Martin. Shortly after finishing college and still residing in Seattle, Nye decided to enter a Steve Martin lookalike contest hosted by Warner Brothers Records. He won the Seattle regional round of the contest but he failed to move on to the nationals.
However, Bill Nye’s success as an impersonator of a comedic icon earned him so many cool points around town that people began asking him to perform his Steve Martin routine at parties and social gatherings. When Nye took notice of the reactions that he received from being Steve Martin, he fell in love with comedy and became inspired to combine laughs and learning into a career.
13. Bill Nye Has Written Several Children’s Books
In addition to screenwriting, acting, and basically being one of the smartest men alive, Bill Nye has continued to make science a rad point of interest for kids in his numerous children’s books. And of course he writes all of these fun educational masterpieces under the name, “The Science Guy.” Kids can get in the spirit of science with some of Nye’s most highly rated books on Amazon.
In Bill Nye The Science Guy’s Big Blast of Science, kids can take matter into their own hands as Nye covers everything from gravity to radioactivity and provides a wide array of ideas for class projects for the budding scientist.
Nye also encourages young minds to become germaphobes– or at least to embrace the good kinds of germs– in his popular book Bill Nye The Science Guy’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs. Another children’s favorite is Bill Nye The Science Guy’s Consider the Following: A Way Cool Set of Science Questions, Answers, and Ideas to Ponder, which is reminiscent of his hit ’90s TV show.
12. Bill Nye Invented Specialized Ballet Slippers
Unsurprisingly, Bill Nye’s name is attached to many patents in the United States. However, perhaps the most unusual patent that Nye holds is for the invention of specialized type of ballet pointe shoes that he likes to call “toe shoes.” Ballet pointe shoes are exactly as they sound. They are the silky baby pink slippers that appear comfortable in theory until you’re spending hours plié-ing across a dance floor. Professional ballerinas are notorious for suffering from damage to their feet and ankles due to the great amount of weight forced onto these parts of their bodies.
However, Nye’s newly designed apparatus is built to provide better support for a ballerina’s feet, toes, and ankles as opposed to previous contraptions. More specifically, Nye inserted a padded box-shaped toe ridge in the traditional slippers and added upper and outer soles. Thanks to Bill Nye, there are ballerinas everywhere doing a happy dance in comfort.
11. He Was Rejected By NASA Four Times
It’s no mystery that Bill Nye is a bonafide space nut. He played a key role in the construction of a tiny sundial that was implemented in the Mars Exploration Rover missions. Nye was also the CEO of The Planetary Society for five years and is the face of a regular exhibit at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, CA.
Despite all of these endeavors, Bill Nye has never been launched into outer space… and he’s applied to NASA four times. On top of being a world renowned promoter of space exploration, The Science Guy is also rather athletic and has proven that he can bypass motion sickness unlike many other potential astronauts. So, what is NASA’s deal?
In an interview at AOL headquarters, Bill Nye half-jokingly said that the first question NASA asks is “How many Ph.Ds do you have?” Nye may be one of the most celebrated eggheads alive, but he still only holds a Bachelor of Science degree.
10. His First Starring Role Was In A Boeing Training Video
After receiving his B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the prestigious Cornell University, Bill Nye moved to the Northwest, where he began his career working as an engineer for Boeing. Not only did Nye assist in the development of a tube thingy for a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor on the Boeing 747 (don’t worry, most people don’t have a clue what this is either), he also starred in a number of training videos for the company.
Yes, before he was Bill Nye The Science Guy, he was “Bill Nye The Airplane Guy.” It is possible that these training videos are what caused Nye to be bitten by the acting bug. In fact, as he expanded his career to include comedy with Almost Live!, he even performed in a parody video on the TV show in which he poked fun at Boeing contract negotiations and the workload distribution among Boeing employees.
9. Bill Nye Was The Inspiration For The Television Show Numb3rs
Bill Nye has encouraged many movements in the realm of science and space exploration, but he has also been an inspiration in the entertainment industry. Specifically, Nye inspired Nick Falacci and Cheryl Heuton in creating the series Numb3rs.
The TV show, which stretched across six seasons, followed a mathematician who helped the FBI solve crime investigations using complex math equations. Nye himself was unaware that he had such an influence on the show until he read an interview with Heuton in Wired Magazine. And then he witnessed his affect on the creators firsthand.
After his conversation with Heuton and Falacci about sundials, the duo incorporated the newly learned information into an episode of the show in which the precise location of a basketball goal needed to located. In addition to inspiring entire episodes of the show, The Science Guy has also appeared on the show as an engineering professor and combustion expert, which is not a big stretch from his real life.
8. Bill Nye Created An iPad Game That You Will Never Get To Play
All work and no play make Bill a dull boy… so he decided to design a game for the iPad.
Fascinated by the concept of flight, Bill Nye partnered up with Gamedesk in 2012 to create AERO 3D. This particular game was specially crafted to teach young children about aerodynamics through animated birds. Gamedesk had already prepared a prototype of AERO 3D through their own partnership with Iridescent Learning and contributions from the National Academy of Sciences and the Office of Naval Research. However, it was up to The Science Guy to reel in the remainder of the funding as well as publicity.
So, Bill Nye did what anyone with a bright idea would do: he began a Kickstarter campaign. Nye believes that the best way to teach blossoming minds is through experience and having the point of view of a bird may be the closest that they will ever come to experiencing the physics of flight. Unfortunately, Bill Nye had a learning experience of his own as his project went unfunded, only raising $31,528 out of $100,000.
7. Bill Nye Is Competitive About His Carbon Footprint
Most competitive neighbors will buy a fancy car or order the most high-tech flat screen TV, but not Bill Nye. This wizard of science started a friendly cold war with his carbon footprint.
Bill Nye has been in a longstanding competition with his Los Angeles neighbor Ed Begley, Jr. to have the lowest carbon footprint. The wager between the two famous environmentalist super nerds began the day after Nye moved to the neighborhood and they have been modifying their homes and lifestyles accordingly for about a decade now.
Nye didn’t hesitate to amp up his game by starting a vegetable garden, ordering solar panels– and then came the rain barrels for recycled water (how he pulled off recycled water during the California drought is puzzling, but good job, Bill).
The true rivalry between these green machines is believed to have ignited during the filming of an episode of Living With Ed, Begley’s short-lived series about leading an environmentally conscious life. Nye claims that Begley became jealous of the features on his solar panels. That’s so LA.
6. Bill Nye Played Ultimate Frisbee In College
If movies and television have driven anything home about science geeks, it’s that they are notorious for being weak and bad at sports. Once again, Bill Nye defies the laws of nature as he is actually quite the athlete. As can be seen from episodes of Bill Nye The Science Guy, Nye is a huge baseball fan. However, this is not his go-to physical activity. Growing up in Washington, D.C., Bill Nye often played frisbee football with his friends and then went on to play ultimate frisbee at Cornell University.
After college, Nye became the founder and captain of the first ever men’s ultimate frisbee team in Seattle, which he called the Olympic Windjammers. Bill Nye was a natural at the sport and he is credited as taking part in the early years of the ultimate frisbee rivalry between Seattle and Portland.
The Olympic Windjammers traveled to games near and far, occasionally flying on private planes piloted by Nye’s buddies at Boeing. Ultimate frisbee may sound like a goofy sport, but don’t be fooled. The brutality earned Nye a broken nose and a dislocated shoulder that has never fully healed.
5. He’s Technically Never Been Married
Bill Nye has a glowing record of successfully predicting experimental outcomes, but such was not the case in his romantic life. In 2005, Nye experienced the rare chemical reaction that is often referred to as love and within five months’ time he was married– or so he thought– to musician, motivational speaker, and author Blair Tindall.
Seven weeks after the wedding, Bill Nye left when he received notice from the State of California stating that his marriage to Tindall was invalid. Neither Nye nor Tindall have ever revealed the reason for the invalidity. Of course, like all celebrity couples gone splitsville, the break was not clean. Bill Nye later slapped a restraining order on his “ex-wife” after she had sprayed a toxic chemical on his vegetable garden and fled on foot. Tindall insists that the chemical was merely weed killer. Still, that must have done a number on his carbon footprint competition.
4. Bill Nye Loves Swing Dancing
Aside from attempting to save the planet at every opportunity and getting down and dirty on the frisbee field, Bill Nye likes to literally get his kicks on the dance floor, as he is an active swing dancer.
In 2013, The Science Guy had the honor to bust a move on the hit TV series Dancing With The Stars with newbie partner Tyne Stecklein. The dance duo swept the floor with numbers to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5”, and appropriately Oingo Boingo’s “Weird Science.” Unfortunately, they were quickly eliminated from the contest after Nye suffered an injury to a tendon. But that hasn’t kept this jumpin’, jivin’ dance-a-holic from getting back on his feet.
Being a man of science, of course, Bill Nye has also advised that there are many health benefits associated with swing dancing. Not only does it make men popular with the ladies, but it also maintains physical fitness and helps keep dementia at bay.
3. Bill Nye Got His Own Show Because Of The Back To The Future TV Series
Shortly before The Science Guy became head scientist of his own show, he played assistant to Doc Brown on the live-action Back to the Future TV series from 1991 to 1993. The show followed the adventures of Doc Brown, his family, and his trusted companion Marty McFly.
Nye had a recurring role on the show in educational segments in which he would give actual scientific demonstrations in a laboratory while Christopher Lloyd would explain the process. Holding on tightly to his famed nickname, Bill Nye was once again only known as “The Science Guy.”
In the three years that Nye worked alongside Lloyd, he built everything from a hot air balloon, to an electromagnet, to a car battery charger using a lemon. The segments featuring The Science Guy reached national popularity in the early ’90s and led to Bill, Bill Bill… hosting his own educational TV show, making Bill Nye The Science Guy a household name.
2. Bill Nye Is A Talented Chef
When Bill Nye is hard at work, chemicals are not the only things that he can be found mixing together. As it turns out, Nye is also a crafty cook in the kitchen. After all, putting together a fine meal is all a matter of science in its simplest form… and The Science Guy is quick to turn a culinary experience into an experimental equation complete with a hypothesis as well as dependent and independent variables.
For instance, Nye once conducted an experiment for PBS Learning Media to determine whether water boils faster in a pot that is either covered or uncovered. Always eager to give a science lesson, Bill Nye was able turn a pasta recipe into a discussion on energy conservation. Outside of the laboratory, Nye enjoys the leisure of wining and dining guests in both his New York City and Los Angeles homes, his specialties being spinach pizza and salmon.
1. Bill Nye Is Not The Only Brainiac In His Family
Bill Nye may be the only famous prodigy in his family, but he had to inherit his gifted mind from someone, right? Skipping the nature versus nurture debate, let’s just say that The Science Guy may have his brainy mother to thank for at least a fraction of his intelligence.
Bill’s mother, Jacqueline Jenkins-Nye, was a codebreaker during World War II. Jenkins-Nye was studying math and psychology at Goucher College when she was recruited by the U.S. Navy to assist them in decoding cryptic messages used by the Japanese and Germans. But she isn’t the only genius relative in the Jenkins-Nye family tree.
Bill Nye’s maternal grandfather was also quite the smarty-pants, as he worked as a professor of chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. Bill Nye The Science Guy attributes much of his knowledge and success to his family, especially his mother. She even taught him how to make their family’s famous salad dressing, which he has described as being “pure chemistry.”
Did you learn anything new about Bill Nye the Science Guy? What was your favorite experiment or sketch from the show? Sound off in the comments!